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16/6/2008 – TSA Agents Get A Badge : Should TSA Screeners Have ‘Law Enforcement’ Shields?
This morning as passengers lined up for security screening at Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoints at Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI) they were greeted by TSA Screeners wearing badges.
I rarely speak negatively about the TSA. I see the TSA as being an agency tasked with a very difficult job, and being forced to navigate the political waters as such a ‘young agency.’ However in this instance my words may come off negatively. My negativity is not aimed at the front line TSA screeners who do an excellent job day-in-and-day out in securing the traveling public. My issue is with those who will use the new TSA uniform in an manner unfitting of someone wearing a badge and those in the upper levels of the TSA who decided this was a valid solution. These upper-level officials would rather change the uniform, and add a badge, than fixing well documented problems within the front line screening personnel and their interaction with the traveling public.
The new TSA badges are not the yellow patches sewn onto a white shirt or maroon sweater we have grown accustomed to (although the TSA at BWI has been wear a new blue uniform for a few weeks now), these are actual ‘law enforcement’ style metal badges. In the eyes of many frequent travelers, as well as bona-fide law enforcement officers, there are inherent problems with TSA Screeners wearing badges.
While TSA screeners are required to attend a two-day training program on how to speak with passenger in a ‘calm manner’ and other related issues before being issued their badges, screeners will not be allowed to wear or display their badges off duty. With the TSA employing well over 45,000 uniformed screeners, and the agency having a current turnover rate of approximately 21.2% for a variety of reasons, this leaves a lot of potential ‘federally issued’ badges out on the streets being possessed by those who are not actually law enforcement agents.
The TSA hopes that the badges will give the front line screeners more respect from the traveling public. The TSA should probably address its pre-hire screening process and screener training before placing its front line ‘public face’ into the field if it wishes to gain more respect. There are many (thousands) of documented cases of TSA screeners making up rules on the spot, no matter how incorrect, which in turn leads to misinformation and in-turn a confusing security process for travelers. When confronted by a ‘federal agent’ in uniform most passengers back down, now with a badge in place I’m sure the cases of intimidation with rise as well.
The many documented cases of under trained screeners, misinformed screeners, screeners who perform ‘retaliatory secondary screenings’ and the common complaints of ‘intimidation,’ are what lead to a lack of respect for the TSA’s front line. There are many outstanding TSA screeners, but overall the image of the TSA’s front line is in need of more professional training rather than a change of uniform.
Aside from the general objections to TSA screeners being issued badges, there are larger implications. What happens when there is a legitimate law enforcement problem in an airport and civilians turn to TSA agents for assistance where they are unable to help? What happens when TSA screeners are commonly mistaken for uniformed law enforcement while walking through an airport or other public area?
How will the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) respond when cases of TSA screeners’ flashing-their-badges start becoming a frequent issue, despite screeners not being allowed to display their badge off duty?
Will the TSA be issuing badges to screeners at airports such as San Francisco International Airport (SFO) where the security checkpoints are not operated by the TSA and the screeners are not TSA employees?
This morning USA Today reported that A.J. Castilla, a spokesman for a TSA Screeners Union, appeared eager to get a badge and is quoted him as saying “It’ll go a long way to enhance the respect of this workforce.”
Unfortunately I believe that the addition of a badge to the TSA uniform will not bring the screeners more respect. I see the addition of a badge to the TSA uniform as something that will not only bring confusion to the role of a TSA screener to the flying public, but also bring significant resentment aimed at TSA screeners from ‘legitimate’ law enforcement officers.